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At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, 189 governments pledged in the Beijing Platform for Action to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.” In 2000, the UN General Assembly established a target date of 2005 for revocation of all sex-discriminatory laws. Seventeen years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action, and seven years past the set target date, numerous laws that explicitly discriminate against women are still in force.
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In conjunction with the UN General Assembly’s five-year reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Equality Now has issued regular reports tracking a representative sampling of explicitly discriminatory laws around the world. Since the issuance of our last report, Words and Deeds -- Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +15 Review Process  (Beijing +15 report), in February 2010 and our Women’s Action Update 16.11  in August 2010, limited progress has been made in a few countries. With the exception of the laws highlighted from Argentina (one bill seeking to amend the law referred to Equality Now’s campaign), Australia, Kenya, Swaziland and the partial amendment of the law in Monaco, all other laws in the Beijing +15 report remain in force. In addition, while some countries, including Iran, Mali, Monaco, the Philippines and the UK, made amendments to the legislation identified in our report, they failed to take the opportunity fully or at all to remove the discrimination highlighted.
The countries where there have been some changes, not always positive, include the following:
Argentina: In April 2012, the law was amended to remove the possibility of a settlement between a victim of sexual abuse and her perpetrator which allowed the perpetrator to go unprosecuted.
Australia: In September 2011, the Government formally approved the inclusion over the next five years of women in Australian Defence Force combat roles, which will end the Defence Force’s exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act.
Iran: The Islamic Penal Code was updated in early 2012, but Equality Now understands that though the Articles on adultery and stoning as a punishment for adultery, including regarding the validity of testimony, highlighted in our report appear to have been deleted, they remain in effect through similar provisions in other parts of the Code or in the general criminal law.
Kenya: The new Constitution of Kenya amended Sections 90 and 91 of the old Constitution to provide that men and women are permitted on an equal basis to pass their Kenyan citizenship to their spouses or children.
Latvia: Although the wording of the law has not been amended and so remains unclear and potentially discriminatory, in practice Latvian employers are governed by a higher law from the European Union which ensures there is no discrimination regarding women working at night.
Mali: A new family code, adopted in January 2012, replaced the Code of Marriage and Guardianship and according to reports, may even be worse for women. We understand that, although it has not been disseminated, the new code still includes discriminatory provisions on “wife obedience” and polygamy, and, for example, removes a woman’s right to automatically have custody of her children if her husband dies.
Monaco: In December 2011, Article 1 of Law No. 1155 was amended slightly but is still discriminatory in that mothers, unlike fathers, do not have unconditional rights in passing nationality to their children. Article 3 was amended positively so that Monegasque men and women can now convey their citizenship to foreign spouses equally, following a ten year waiting period.
Philippines: On 27 March 2012, the President of the Philippines, despite vigorous opposition from women's organizations in the Philippines, signed into law amendments decriminalizing vagrants in the Penal Code article on “vagrants and prostitutes” but continuing to criminalize prostituted women and defining prostitution as a crime only a woman can commit.
Swaziland: According to a statement made by the Ambassador of Swaziland to the United Nations, Parliament removed the discrimination in the Deeds Registry Act in July 2011 so that a woman married in community of property can now register property in her own name.
Syria: In early 2011, Syria again amended Article 548, to increase the penalty from a minimum of two years to a new minimum five year prison term for a man who catches his wife or sister in an act of adultery and kills her, or her partner. Unfortunately the government also introduced a maximum term of seven years’ imprisonment; the typical punishment for murder is hard labor for 20 years.
United Kingdom: Although the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 was repealed by the Equality Act of 2010, the exception allowing for discrimination against women in the armed forces remains in schedule 9, paragraph 4 of the Equality Act.
United States: In June 2011, the judgment in the case of Flores-Villar v. United States, which upheld immigration and nationality statute provisions permitting mothers and fathers to be treated differently in determining the transfer of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad and out of wedlock, was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, without opinion or explanation. The discriminatory immigration and nationality statute therefore remains in effect.
Please note that updated contact information for writing to governments can be found here .
- Ask your government and others to amend/repeal all sex discriminatory laws as a matter of urgency.
- Share this update and your concerns with the media and the general public to enlist their support in the campaign to hold governments accountable to the Beijing Platform for Action .
- Please also sign our petition .
Following advocacy by Equality Now and many civil society groups from around the world, at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s session in September-October 2010 the Human Rights Council established a five member Working Group  on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice. Equality Now will continue to send information to the Working Group on these and similar issues, and encourages other organizations to do so: firstname.lastname@example.org .